NY Senate to move on major gun legislation, but Assembly action unclear

Originally published in Newsday on June 01, 2021.

ALBANY – The State Senate will approve a series of gun safety bills Wednesday, including ones to ban "ghost guns" and another to allow lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers for crimes committed with their products.

The seven-bill package of gun measures is far-reaching but it’s unclear if the Democratic-dominated Assembly also will pass the bills before the scheduled adjournment of the State Legislature, set for June 10.

Among the bills the Senate will take up is one that would seek to get around a federal statute that largely shields gun manufacturers from civil liability, though with some exemptions.

Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn) has said his bill would amend New York’s criminal nuisance law to cover the sale or manufacture of products that endanger health and safety. Doing so would permit New Yorkers to sue gun companies in part by categorizing the misuse of guns as a nuisance, which he says would comport with federal law.

"Given the ease with which legal firearms flow into the illegal market — in spite of stringent state and local restrictions — and given the specific harm illegal firearm violence causes certain New Yorkers, those responsible for the sale, manufacture, importing, or marketing of firearms should be held liable for the public nuisance caused by such activities," Myrie wrote in a memo accompanying his bill.

Pro-gun groups have denounced the bill as too broad and an end run on Second Amendment rights.

Other bills on the Senate agenda Wednesday would outlaw weapons called "ghost guns" because they are untraceable and meant to evade current law.

Shipped to purchasers in pieces and without serial numbers, the guns can be assembled into a fully usable firearm. Because they are shipped unfinished, they skirt state and federal restrictions.

Opponents say ghost guns often are obtained by people who couldn’t pass a gun-purchaser background check or who intend to use the weapon to commit a crime.

"If you can’t pass a background check to get a gun, then you shouldn’t be able to get a gun, period," said Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills), who sponsors a bill to outlaw the sale of "unfinished receivers," in a statement.

"The unfinished receiver loophole lets anyone get their hands on the parts needed to build an untraceable, unregistered AR-15 without ever going through a background check, and with gun violence surging across the country, now is the time to take action to close dangerous loopholes that needlessly put the safety of New Yorkers at risk," Kaplan added.

Her bill is called the "Scott J. Beigel unfinished receiver act," referring to a former Dix Hills resident and teacher who saved dozens of lives but lost his own during the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

A related bill, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), would require New York gunsmiths to "serialize any firearms, rifles, shotguns, and unfinished firearm frames or receivers they manufacture or assemble." It also would outlaw ghost guns altogether and require anyone assembling a firearm to be a licensed gunsmith.

The bills have a number of backers in the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly. But with more than twice as many members, the Assembly sometimes moves slower than the Senate and the gun measures currently are in various committees. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said the Democrats will be discussing the bills this week.